White City (Tel Aviv)
|White City of Tel Aviv –
the Modern Movement
|Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List|
White City architecture in central Tel Aviv
|UNESCO region||Europe and North America|
|Inscription||2003 (27th Session)|
The White City (Hebrew: העיר הלבנה, Ha-Ir HaLevana) refers to a collection of over 4,000 buildings built in a unique form of the Bauhaus or International style in Tel Aviv from the 1930s by German Jewish architects who immigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine after the rise of the Nazis. Tel Aviv has the largest number of buildings in the Bauhaus/International style of any city in the world. Preservation, documentation, and exhibitions have brought attention to Tel Aviv's collection of 1930s architecture. In 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed Tel Aviv's White City a World Cultural Heritage site, as "an outstanding example of new town planning and architecture in the early 20th century." The citation recognized the unique adaptation of modern international architectural trends to the cultural, climatic, and local traditions of the city. The Bauhaus Center in Tel Aviv organises regular architectural tours of the city.
The concept for a new garden city, to be called Tel Aviv, was developed on the sand dunes outside Jaffa in 1909. Scottish urban planner Patrick Geddes, who had previously worked on town-planning in New Delhi, was commissioned by Tel Aviv's first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, to draw up a master plan for the new city. Geddes began work in 1925 on the plan, which was accepted in 1929. The view of the British Mandatory authorities seemed to have been supportive. In addition to Geddes, and Dizengoff, the city engineer Ya'acov Ben-Sira contributed significantly to the development and planning during his 1929 to 1951 tenure. Patrick Geddes laid out the streets and decided on block size and utilisation. Geddes did not prescribe an architectural style for the buildings in the new city. But by 1933, many Jewish architects of the Bauhaus school in Germany, like Arieh Sharon, fled to the British Mandate of Palestine. Both the emigration of these Jewish architects and the closing of the Bauhaus school in Berlin were consequences of the rise to power of the Nazi party in Germany in 1933.
The residential and public buildings were designed by these architects, who took advantage of the absence of established architectural conventions to put the principles of modern architecture into practice. The Bauhaus principles, with their emphasis on functionality and inexpensive building materials, were perceived as ideal in Tel Aviv. The architects fleeing Europe brought not only Bauhaus ideas; the architectural ideas of Le Corbusier were also mixed in. Furthermore, Erich Mendelsohn was not formally associated with the Bauhaus, though he had several projects in Israel in the 1930s as did Carl Rubin, an architect from Mendelsohn's office. In the 1930s in Tel Aviv, many architectural ideas were converging and Tel Aviv was the ideal place for them to be tested.
In 1984, in celebration of Tel Aviv's 75th year, an exhibition was held at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art entitled White City, International Style Architecture in Israel, Portrait of an Era. Some sources trace the origin of the term "White City" to this exhibition and its curator Michael Levin, some to the poet Nathan Alterman. The 1984 exhibition traveled to New York, to the Jewish Museum. In 1994, a conference took place at the UNESCO headquarters, entitled World Conference on the International Style in Architecture. Credit was given to Israeli artist Dani Karavan who made a sculpture garden at the headquarters, and had earlier made a sculptural environment entitled Kikar Levana that was inspired by the White City. In 1996, Tel Aviv's White City was listed as a World Monuments Fund endangered site. In 2003, UNESCO named Tel Aviv a World Heritage Site for its treasure of modern architecture.
Adaptation to local climate
However, the architecture had to be adapted to suit the extremes of the Mediterranean and desert climate. White and light colors reflected the heat. Walls not only provided privacy but protected against the sun. Large areas of glass that let in the light, a key element of the Bauhaus style in Europe, were replaced with small recessed windows that limited the heat and glare. Long narrow balconies, each shaded by the balcony above it, allowed residents to catch the breeze blowing in from the sea to the west. Slanted roofs were replaced with flat ones, providing a common area where residents could socialize in the cool of the evening.
Buildings were raised on pillars (pilotis), the first being the 1933 Engel House designed by Zeev Rechter. These allow the wind to blow under and cool the apartments, as well as providing a play area for children. In 1935, at the office building Beit Hadar, steel frame structure was introduced, a technique which facilitates opening the first floor for such purposes.
The style of architecture and construction methods used in the hundreds of new buildings came to define the character of the modern city. Most of the buildings were of concrete (reinforced concrete was often applied from 1912 on) and in the summer were unbearably hot despite their innovative design features. Tel Aviv’s residents took to the streets in the evenings, frequenting the numerous small parks between the buildings and the growing number of coffee shops, where they could enjoy the evening air. This tradition continues in the café society, and nightlife of the city today.
The apartment blocks provided a variety of services such as childcare, postal services, store, and laundry within the buildings themselves. Additionally, having a connection to the land was viewed as extremely important, so residents were encouraged to grow their own vegetables on an allotment of land set aside next to or behind the building. This created a sense of community for the residents, who were in the main, displaced people from differing cultures and origins.
Many of the buildings from this period, some architectural classics, have been neglected to the point of ruin, and before legislation was passed, some were demolished. However, of the original 4,000 Bauhaus buildings built, some have been refurbished and at least 1,500 more are slated for preservation and restoration. The municipal government of Tel Aviv passed legislation in 2009 that covers some 1,000 structures.
Documentation and exhibitions
The widest architectural survey of the White City has been held by Nitza Metzger Szmuk. It was later transformed into a book and an exhibition called "Dwelling on the Dunes". The exhibition was originally held at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2004 and then traveled to Canada, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany. Established in 2000, The Bauhaus Center in Tel Aviv is an organization dedicated to the ongoing documentation of the architectural heritage. In 2003, it hosted an exhibition on preservation of the architecture that showcased 25 buildings. Further to this architectural culture in the city, a Bauhaus Museum opened in Tel Aviv in 2008. On occasion of the 100 years since the city's founding, Docomomo International published Docomomo Journal 40 in March 2009, with most of the coverage in the journal on "Tel Aviv 100 Years: A Century of Modern Buildings."
The Bauhaus Museum was opened in Bialik Street, near the old City Hall in 2010.
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- Södra Ängby, contemporaneous modernist urban villa area in Stockholm, Sweden
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- White City exhibition at the UQAM, Montreal 
- White City exhibition at the EPFL, Switzerland 
- White City exhibition at the CIVA, Brussels 
- White City exhibition at the DAM, Frankfurt 
- The Bauhaus Center, Haaretz, 18 May 2008
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- Hecht, Esther. "Bauhaus Museum Opens in Tel Aviv’s White City". Architectural Record. Retrieved 5 September 2012.
29. Nahoum Cohen Bauhaus-Tel Aviv, (Batford, London)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to White City of Tel Aviv.|
- UNESCO, Nomination file, World Heritage Centre
- Artlog: Bauhaus in Tel Aviv
- Site by Tel Aviv Municipality
- Bibliographies in Hebrew prepared by the Beit Ariela library: articles, books